New push to end Israel's "administrative detentions" amid mass hunger strike

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A Palestinian woman holds a photo of loved-ones imprisoned by Israel during a demonstration in Gaza City in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike on May 5, 2014. (Photo: AFP - Mohammed Abed)

Published Monday, May 12, 2014

Over 100 Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons entered their 19th day of hunger strike Monday as activists and rights groups reapply pressure to force Israel to end its widely condemned policy of "administrative detention."

Some 120 prisoners began refusing food on April 24 in the latest in a series of strikes that began two years ago against the imprisonment of Palestinians charged with no crime.

About 20 more joined in soon after, while a number of other prisoners have been on strike for much longer, including Ayman Atabish, who entered his 74th day of hunger strike Monday, and Adnan Shayteh, now 51 days without food, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies monitoring group.

The Palestinian Prisoners Society, another rights group, originally said 200 people from three different jails had gone on hunger strike on April 24, but it later revised its toll.

Exact numbers are difficult to determine as they fluctuate with some hunger strikers ending their bids and others joining in later on for different durations.

Israeli prison authorities also try to keep word of hunger strikes from the public by limiting prisoners’ access to their families and lawyers, shuffling them across different jails and placing some in solitary confinement with the hope to disrupt their efforts and discourage them from growing.

Israel’s policy of administrative detention allows authorities to hold prisoners for six-month periods without having been charged with a crime. Those six-month jail terms can be renewed indefinitely, with some prisoners having served years without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

As of late last month 191 Palestinians are imprisoned under administrative detention according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which has called on authorities to “stop its illegal use” of the policy.

B'Tselem has joined other rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in slamming the policy, which it says is permissible by international law "only in very exceptional cases" and "as a last possible resort," it said in a statement Sunday.

Overall about 5,000 Palestinians languish in Israel’s jails. Last Thursday nearly all of them committed to a one-day hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners protesting their administrative detention.

Online activists have resurfaced the hashtag “water and salt,” in reference to what hunger strikers consume, in light of the latest strike. Thousands have been using the tagline, popularized during previous hunger strikes, in Arabic and other languages since May 2 to offer their support to the prisoners.

Meanwhile on the streets, thousands have been protesting across the West Bank on Gaza calling for the release of the prisoners.

On Sunday relatives of Palestinian prisoners blocked the entrance to an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the northern West Bank town of Nablus to protest what they described as the ICRC’s passive attitude towards the issue.

Two days earlier on Friday, thousands participated in some of the largest pro-prisoner rallies ever witnessed in the West Bank and Gaza, supported by most political parties including Hamas and Fatah, the two largest.

In the West Bank, protests took place in Hebron, Tulkarem and Ramallah. In Gaza, protesters marched in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north organized by Islamic Jihad, while Hamas led rallies in the southern town of Khan Younis.

Palestinian prisoners began carrying out a series of collective hunger strikes since 2012 to protest their administrative detention in what have been lauded by peace activists as an effective form of non-violent struggle that allowed prisoners to achieve their ends.

The hunger strike movement became popularized in April 2012 when an estimated 2,000 prisoners went one month without food in a case that drew international attention to the plight of prisoners and forced Israel to negotiate a deal to bring the hunger strike to an end.

Under the deal signed on May 14, 2012, Israel promised to either release or charge the more-than-300 Palestinians held in administrative detention when their terms ended.

But Israel violated the deal after it renewed the administrative detentions of a number of prisoners, including Ayman Sharawneh, Jaafar Ezzedine, and Tarek Qa'adan who went back on long term hunger strikes that nearly cause them to die.

The now iconic former prisoner Samer Issawi ended an unprecedented 177 day hunger strike last year after Israel promised to release him. He was released last December, but Israel has now jailed his sister, Shireen, for a second time.

(Al-Akhbar)

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